UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion basketball team (8-8, 0-4) will play its third home game in a span of four contests on Wednesday when it welcomes No. 18 Michigan State (14-3, 3-1) to the Bryce Jordan Center (7 p.m. on BTN).
After a series of seven-straight games of 40 percent shooting or better, the Nittany Lions will be looking to snap a three-game string of season-lows in shooting. The Lions have shot just 29.7 percent from the field during their last three contests. Nonetheless, Coach Chambers is confident that it is only a matter of time before Penn State returns to its shooting form from the end of the non-conference slate.
The coaching staff was pleased with the shot selection Penn State obtained in Sunday's setback at Purdue. The Lions had good looks around the basket and numerous quality mid-range shots. Simply put, the shots just did not fall in Mackey Arena.
Now, the Lions are focused on the next task at hand. Let's take a closer look at Wednesday's matchup against the 18th-ranked Spartans.
Find a Way to the Charity Stripe
Earning more trips to the free throw line is essential for the Nittany Lions moving forward in Big Ten play. Through four conference games, Penn State has been to the foul line 62 times, while its opponents have been there 107 times. More free throws will aid in Penn State's efforts to snap out of its shooting slump, as well. In terms of scoring, Nittany Lion opponents are +30 at the foul line in the first four Big Ten games. Sophomore point guard D.J. Newbill is the catalyst for more free throw attempts. He has been to the foul line a team-best 102 times in 2012-13. When Newbill is aggressive taking the ball to the basket, he gets to the foul line. The Lions will need more free throw attempts against Michigan State on Wednesday.
A bright spot for Penn State during 2012-13 has been its ability to rebound the basketball. The Lions have out-rebounded their opponents in nine of the last 10 games. The lone exception was Sunday at Purdue. The Lions have posted 12 games with double-digit offensive rebounds, including 14 or more in four of their last five games. Both Michigan State and Penn State are good offensive rebounding teams. The Lions average 12.4 offensive rebounds per game, and Michigan State averages 12.0 offensive boards. Staying active on the offensive glass and second-chance points against the Spartans are big keys for the Nittany Lions on Wednesday night.
Defending the Posts
Michigan State fields one of the biggest frontcourts in the Big Ten, and the Nittany Lions know they need to play well on the defensive end of the floor against the post players to have success on Wednesday. Forwards Brandon Dawson (10.5), Derrick Nix (9.4) and Adreian Payne (8.5) combine for 28.4 points and 20.5 rebounds per game or 40 percent of the team's points and 53 percent of the team's rebounds. Staying out of foul trouble will be key for Sasa Borovnjak, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis and Jon Graham as they face off against the talented frontcourt of Michigan State. Additionally, keeping the Spartan bigs off of the offensive glass is going to be a point of emphasis in the gameplan.
Scouting Michigan State
In addition to the big three inside, Michigan State boasts a talented backcourt duo of Keith Appling and freshman Gary Harris. Appling, a 6-1 junior, leads Michigan State in scoring (13.8 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg). Appling ranks third in the conference in assists behind Michigan's Trey Burke and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell. Standing at 6-4, Harris averages 12.9 points per contest and is a good 3-point shooter for Michigan State (38 percent). Sophomore guard Travis Trice plays more than 20 minutes per contest in the backcourt, as well. Trice enters Wednesday's game averaging 5.8 tallies per contest.
Michigan State heads to Happy Valley having won nine of its last 10 games, with the lone setback coming at Minnesota in a game that was much closer than the final score (76-63). Coach Chambers said on Monday that the Nittany Lions are going to pack the paint on defense in an effort to keep Appling from driving to the basket and slow down the production in the post from Dawson, Nix and Payne.
Defending and rebounding (Michigan State is +8 per game in rebounding this year) are crucial, but Wednesday's game will come down to Penn State's ability to make shots against a Michigan State team that ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (37.6 percent).
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